Wednesday, January 23, 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new world trade pact is possible this year, but it is still too early to schedule a trade ministers' meeting to seal the deal, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said on Thursday.

"A lot of progress is being made in Geneva. We aren't there yet in terms of a breakthrough," Schwab told reporters after a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But there could be a breakthrough "in the first quarter" based on a set of revised texts on agriculture and industrial goods that will be released in Geneva by late January or early February, Schwab said.

"We're in a critical few months. We intend to conclude a good agreement if a good agreement is to be had," Schwab said.

It's still unclear whether enough additional progress can be made in the agriculture and industrial goods negotiations to hold a ministerial meeting at the end of March to conclude the deal, as has been discussed in Geneva, Schwab said.

That will depend on whether countries can agree to negotiate based on the revised texts, and then work constructively to bridge remaining differences, she said.

It would be a mistake to prematurely schedule a ministerial meeting, Schwab said.

Schwab will discuss the status of the talks with other top ministers attending the annual World Economic Forum meeting next week in Davos, Switzerland.

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